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The Lower House has passed a bill that will enable dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces at any time and anywhere in the world on antipiracy missions. After the opposition-controlled Upper House votes it down, as expected, the Lower House will enact the bill in a second vote.

Two Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers are now in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia on an antipiracy mission under the “maritime police actions” clause of the SDF Law. With the bill’s enactment, the government will switch the legal basis for the mission.

The bill gives the Japan Coast Guard (JSG) a primary role in antipiracy operations. The SDF can, however, engage in such operations when the JSG cannot handle the situation. This provision is clearly a loophole to allow the SDF to participate in antipiracy missions.

Presently the SDF is only allowed to escort Japan-related ships and its use of weapons is limited to legitimate self-defense. But the bill allows the SDF to escort foreign ships and fire at pirate boats that ignore warning signals and approach merchant ships.

The government says that since antipiracy operations are an exercise of policing authority, the use of weapons in such operations overseas is not considered a military action prohibited by the Constitution. But the bill could lower the threshold for the use of weapons in other SDF overseas missions. The bill also does not require the Diet’s prior approval for the overseas dispatch of the SDF on antipiracy missions that may involve the use of weapons.

Regrettably, the government has no intention of strengthening the coast guard’s capabilities to cope with heavily armed pirates. The JCG has done much to help reduce piracy in Southeast Asia by working with the coast guards of nations concerned, and as such, the government should utilize the JCG’s experience to improve the antipiracy capabilities of nations around Somalia. It should also push the international community to do more to help Somalia, whose unstable, anarchic situation is the root cause of piracy.

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